All secondary joys are derivative in nature. They cannot be separated from God. Flowers are beautiful for one reason—God is beautiful. Rainbows are stunning because God is stunning. Puppies are delightful because God is delightful. Sports are fun because God is fun. Study is rewarding because God is rewarding. Work is fulfilling because God is fulfilling.
There is an important corollary to the derivative nature of these goods. I am often asked, by non-believers, why it is that people can’t lead perfectly happy and fulfilled lives without acknowledging God. They see no connection between all that is good about the world, and God. They want to set the God question to the side and go on living their lives.
The problem with this approach is that every good thing comes from God. God is, therefore, the highest good. To use an analogy, they are like the man who is content to stare at beautiful drawings of waterfalls cascading over moss-covered rocks, but who doesn’t want to go outside and look at the real thing.
On the opposite pole from the unbeliever above is the person who believes it is unspiritual to enjoy the good things God has provided. Alcorn addresses this person:
Ironically, some people who are the most determined to avoid the sacrilege of putting things before God miss a thousand daily opportunities to thank him, praise him, and draw near to him, because they imagine they shouldn’t enjoy the very things he made to help us know him and love him.
God is a lavish giver. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all— how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8: 32). The God who gave us his Son delights to graciously give us “all things.” These “all things ” are in addition to Christ, but they are never instead of him— they come, Scripture tells us, “along with him.” If we didn’t have Christ, we would have nothing. But because we have Christ, we have everything. Hence, we can enjoy the people and things God has made, and in the process enjoy the God who designed and provided them for his pleasure and ours.
So, it is wrong to enjoy God’s gifts without acknowledging who gave them to us, and it is wrong to refuse to enjoy God’s gifts out of fear that we are offending God somehow. Alcorn concludes:
God welcomes prayers of thanksgiving for meals, warm fires, games, books, relationships , and every other good thing. When we fail to acknowledge God as the source of all good things, we fail to give him the recognition and glory he deserves. We separate joy from God, which is like trying to separate heat from fire or wetness from rain.
The movie Babette’s Feast depicts a conservative Christian sect that scrupulously avoids “worldly” distractions until a woman’s creation of a great feast opens their eyes to the richness of God’s provision. Babette’s Feast beautifully illustrates that we shouldn’t ignore or minimize God’s lavish, creative gifts, but we should enjoy them and express heartfelt gratitude to God for all of life’s joys.
When we do this, instead of these things drawing us from God, they draw us to God. That’s precisely what all things and all beings in Heaven will do— draw us to God, never away from him. Every day we should see God in his creation: in the food we eat, the air we breathe , the friendships we enjoy, and the pleasures of family, work , and hobbies.
Yes, we must sometimes forgo secondary pleasures, and we should never let them eclipse God. And we should avoid opulence and waste when others are needy. But we should thank God for all of life’s joys, large and small, and allow them to draw us to him. That’s exactly what we’ll do in Heaven . . . so why not start now?